Tony Blair arrived back in the UK to thrust his well worn stick into another bee’s nest issue over the weekend – this time Europe. I hope our leaders were listening. Blair’s cosy relationship with Europe may not have been the handbag swinging that would have pleased everyone, but it is the right way to ensure the UK’s voice was heard in our biggest trading block. Blair is bringing the right message – closer ties with an EU that has a coherent vision of the future. I support a stronger position for the UK within the EU. But in order to persuade a majority, the EU needs to go further than Blair’s simple message and take three clear steps:
i) Cut and reallocate budgets and head count.
ii) Set out a simple mission statement.
iii) Agree an effective majority rule, or a disputes mechanic.
Despite the diplomatic challenges, Cameron is right to push for a reduced budget, and right to insist that the Commission in particular takes some pain. The EU institutions have not earned the right to demand an increased budget. If they want more cash they (or politicians demanding it) have to be more vocal about why and how it improves our lives. The armchair view is not positive. And if watching the summits raises ire at the waste, the excess, the numbers of hangers-on, try visiting Brussels to witness the scale of the EU institutions. If some of the internal EU processes could be removed or simplified, could savings be made, and would outcomes be improved? The same questions need to be asked of the UNFCCC.
Both the UNFCCC and the EU need an institutional switch of focus to outcomes. These outcomes should be set out in a simple vision which each citizen can understand. Blair calls it a ‘grand plan’, I call it a mission statement. Currently the EU spends 30% of its budget supporting agriculture. A mission statement would either make that clear or set out different aims.
For me, the EU the mission statement should be focused on the prevention of European conflict, removal of trading barriers, the promotion and protection of human rights and defeating climate change. Other matters can be left to national governments with some budget being allocated to ensure cooperation on immigration and crime.
If, following a review, the EU mission is being adequately achieved, everyone else can go home. Equally with the UNFCCC the mission should be to reduce global emissions and incentivise investment in clean energy and energy efficiency. If that is achieved through annual summits and processes that no-one understands, great. If it isn’t, then they need to rethink and refocus on the mission. The problem at the moment is that too many people have invested too much of their careers in the future of the processes and are therefore not the best people to decide on how to bring the focus back on the outcomes.
The overriding objective for both the EU and the UNFCCC is to deliver a better world for citizens. Every leader, employee and process needs to be completely focused on that outcome. If Cameron, Merkel, Hedegaard or Figueres could come out of each summit and state how they have improved our lives no one would question the value.
Is it possible for diplomacy to work in this way? Would there inevitably be disagreements which would block the path? We need a dispute mechanic in the EU and UNFCCC that allows decisions to move forward in furtherance of the mission even when people disagree. The default of everyone coming back to try again is just not acceptable, and builds expense and waste into these organisations.
Blair has been to the summits, sat at the tables and done the deals. It is right therefore that he is being listened to. His call for a grand plan is timely but it needs to go further to demand budget cuts and a focus on outcomes over process. These are key reforms that could help the EU and UNFCCC find a place in citizen’s hearts.
Trying to thrash out a climate deal in a city built on oil and gas is like debating drugs policy in Afghanistan. That is; a good idea. The sight of a few LNG vessels pulling away to deliver vital gas supplies around the developed world should bring a touch of realism to proceedings. But there is unlikely to be any day-dreaming of grandstanding this year in any case. Europe has made clear its intention not to commit to greater ambition without support and Australia has already claimed the Issaka the Otter award for honourably taking part with their 0.5% commitment. Yet I believe there is room for optimism. Could this be where progress made at recent summits accelerates? Could this be where there tanker turns? Here are my top three hopes for the next two weeks:
1. Reform of the CDM will come to the top of the agenda. CDM is a great UNFCCC success story, yet CERs are languishing at €0.70. This is bad news for investment in the developing world and bad news for international cap and trade markets. The CDM Policy Dialogue has produced some exceptional recommendations to reform the mechanism. Their report reads like a manifesto for reform. Let’s see if it can galvanise the delegates into meaningful action to build a mechanism fit for the next phase of climate action.
2. China’s will take its position as a climate leader. China is moving quickly and decisively towards a cleaner economy. Encouraging China’s nascent trading schemes and clean energy initiatives by encouraging China to lead on key issues could be a positive outcome from Doha. One practical step could be to amend the rules to allow CERs produced domestically in China to be used in their domestic scheme. It’s a logical step, but will challenge the conference’s appetite to challenge the fundamentals of the Kyoto settlement. Let’s not get hung up on whether China has reduction targets.
3. Hot air over hot air. It was a poor decision to frame the rules to allow for limitless amounts of ‘hot air’ (unused emissions credits) to be carried forward to the next commitment phase. A deal needs to be struck on how much can be ‘banked’ and how much will need to be given up. I’m optimistic that the delegates can get down to the numbers and come up with an agreement on this – not one that suits everyone, but something that will allow us to move forward.